In January this year, NHS mental health director Claire Murdock warned gaming companies to ban loot boxes from their products as children are being “set up for addiction”.
A new treatment centre has been opened as well as 14 new NHS gambling clinics across England as part of the NHS Long Term plan. These centres will be addressing significant mental ill health attributed to addiction with the help of £2.3 billion extra funding.
NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch said: “Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.
“Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.”
Many concerns have been raised concerning children secretively spending money whilst playing video games. Loot boxes are found in video games with unknown add-ons inside. Most of the time the players don’t know what is inside a loot box, so could be spending large amounts of money on items of little value.
Ms Murdoch called on gaming companies to offer support to parents and make them aware of the risks that in-game spending holds. She also asked that spending limits be introduced, and also implement a ban on game sales that contain loot boxes.
According to the Gambling Commission, there are an estimated 55,000 children who have potential gambling issues and the NHS say that there are roughly 400,000 people in England who have a serious gambling problem.
Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists will treat people who are referred to the NHS specialist clinics and will address developmental disorders, gambling, compulsive orders and underlying childhood difficulties which may cause addictive behaviours.
Due to a loophole, The Gambling Commission cannot regulate some loot boxes as they are not classified as gambling. This is because there is no official way to monetise what is found in the loot boxes.
The sale of loot boxes to children has been requested to be banned by a recent parliamentary report, as well as loot boxes being regulated.
The report also called for:
- Players to be protected from potential harms by being warned by the gaming industry.
- A levy for the gaming industry which will be used to independently research the effects of gambling.
- Effective systems to keep youth off age-restricted games and platforms.
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, psychiatrist and founder of CNWL’s National Problem Gambling Clinic said: “As the Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the first NHS clinic to treat gaming addiction, I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals.
“Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched. We need an evidence-based approach to ensure our young people and gamers in general do not continue to be subjected to new and increasingly harmful products without our intervention.”